(AP) — A custody battle has broken out among relatives of four Indigenous children who survived a plane crash and 40 harrowing days alone in the Amazon rainforest in an extraordinary showing of youthful resilience that captivated people around the world.
The siblings, ranging in age from 1 to 13, remained hospitalised Monday and were expected to stay there for several more days, a period that Colombia’s child protection agency is using to interview family members to determine who should care for them after their mother died in the May 1 crash.
Astrid Cáceres, head of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare, said in an interview with BLU radio that a caseworker was assigned to the children at the request of their maternal grandparents, who are vying for custody with the father of the two youngest.
“We are going to talk, investigate, learn a little about the situation,” Cáceres said, adding that the agency has not ruled out that they and their mother may have experienced domestic abuse.
“The most important thing at this moment is the children’s health, which is not only physical but also emotional, the way we accompany them emotionally,” she said.
On Sunday, grandfather Narciso Mucutuy accused Manuel Ranoque of beating his daughter, Magdalena Mucuty, telling reporters the children would hide in the forest when fighting broke out.
Ranoque acknowledged to reporters that there had been trouble at home, but he characterised it as a private family matter and not “gossip for the world.”
Asked whether he had attacked his wife, Ranoque said: “Verbally, sometimes, yes. Physically, very little. We had more verbal fights.”
Ranoque said he has not been allowed to see the two oldest children at the hospital. Cáceres declined to comment on why that was the case.
The children were traveling with their mother from the Amazonian village of Araracuara to the town of San Jose del Guaviare on May 1 when the pilot of the Cessna single-engine propeller plane declared an emergency due to engine failure. The aircraft fell off the radar a short time later, and a search began for the three adults and four children who were on board.
For more than a month, the children survived by eating cassava flour and seeds as well as some fruits they found in the rainforest, which they were familiar with as members of the Huitoto Indigenous group.
They were finally found Friday and helicoptered to the capital, Bogota, and then to a military hospital where they have been given psychological services and other support. Officials have sought to do so in a culturally sensitive way, arranging for spiritual ceremonies and food the children are accustomed to.